Pic by Nigel Williams, via Wikimedia Commons

During a state Senate agriculture committee today, a measure created to stop animal rights activists from taking pictures of farming operations in Florida was asked to be amended before receiving a vote.

State Sen. Jim Norman’s omnibus agriculture bill currently has a provision that activists have nicknamed an “Ag Gag.” The measure would prevent the release of information (photos, video, etc.) obtained by “whistleblowing employees and undercover investigations.” The information, in the past, has included exposés documenting “animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, and environmental problems,” according to one group.

If passed, anyone taking pictures or recording images of “a farm or farm operation … without the prior written consent of the farm’s owner or the owner’s authorized representative” would be guilty of a crime.

As The Florida Independent’s Brett Ader previously reported, the bill had been crafted “at the behest of Wilton Simpson of Pasco County, where Simpson Farms produces 21 million eggs annually for Florida’s second-largest egg seller, Tampa Farm Service.”

During today’s committee hearing, groups such as the Florida Feed Association and a state cattle group showed their support for the bill. Norman’s representative at the hearing claimed the provisions is a way to prevent situations where activists take pictures that “mislead the public” by showing actions they say are “inhumane” but are actually “legitimate practices.”

“It is to protect, in a way, agriculture industry,” Norman’s representative said. He claimed it was a response to the media’s negative view of the industry.

But some on today’s panel questioned what exactly the bill was created to prevent.

State Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, understood that the bill was aimed at stopping misrepresentation of farm work, referring to the tactic as “making a scene.” Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, pointed out that that wrinkly is not explicitly stated in the bill. He argued that the “Ag Gag” portion of the bill was written unclearly.

Laura Bevan of the Humane Society of the United States, who testified against the bill today, agreed. She explained that the bill is ”very broad” and could have “unintended consequences.”

“There are already bills that takes care of trespassing and slander,” she said.

Bevan also argued that there are no examples of activists getting industries in trouble because of video that “misrepresents” farming.

“That has never happened,” she said. “We are basically saying that if someone is falsifying documents, there is another way of dealing with that.”

“What are we hiding?” Bevan asked the committee. “What does agriculture have to hide?  This is basically slamming the doors and saying, ‘What happens on the farm stays on the farm.’”

Due to the uncertainty of the language in the bill, Paula Dockery, R- Lakeland, asked that the “Ag Gag” portion be amended before the committee casts a vote on the bill. The committee agreed.

An unamended House version of this bill has already made its way through the House agriculture committee.

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